The Giant Factory Off-Road Team have just had a training camp in Tehachapi, California. Sue George from Cyclingnews took a tour of their race rig as mechanics finished setting up the squad's equipment for the 2010 mountain bike season.
While the team may focus on racing during the spring and summer months, the mechanics and managers focus their pre-season time on procuring equipment, performing initial bike builds and helping riders get sorted with their new gear.
"I think we build about 40 bikes throughout the year. Sometimes they are race bikes, sometimes prototype bikes," said Joe Staub, manager for the downhill part of the team and head mechanic for both the downhillers and the US cross-country team.
Staub and mechanic Justin Morse had just returned from Idaho, where the team's truck and trailer are kept, and where their equipment is stored. There, they spent 10 days building the majority of the squad's bikes.
Staub has been with Giant since 2008 and said the team's long-term relationship with their sponsors makes the early season setup much easier. "This year, we're racing on equipment from Shimano, Michelin, Fox and Fizik," he said.
Giant's downhillers push their bikes up for another practice run to dial in their suspension
"The cross-country riders are on Shimano XTR kits and we'll be running the upgrade kit Yumeya. It includes titanium bolts and gold doodahs. It's nice stuff and adds polish and finish on the cross-country race bikes. On the downhill bikes, we have a solid build with Shimano Saint and Fox suspension. We're running Mavic rims with DT spokes."
Staub is excited about the team's signing of two promising young downhill racers, Danny Hart and Duncan Riffle, who will join Jared Rando on the gravity team. "We're really stepping it up on the downhill side this year," he said.
"Giant's had a long legacy of racing downhill with Rob Warner and Myles Rockwell, and it's really cool to see the programme take a step forward with a bigger programme and more support at the World Cup level."
New signing Danny Hart works on setting up his bike for the season
Bikes, bikes everywhere
In a given year, the downhill and cross-country racers will get several bikes. "Most of the gravity riders get about five or six bikes per year, depending on what they're doing," Staub said. "The cross-country athletes, like Carl Decker, Adam Craig or Kelli Emmett, get four to five bikes.
"Some years that changes. For example, when we bring a new rider in, like Duncan or Danny, they get more bikes because they need a road bike and a cross-country bike. We give them a complete quiver of bikes so they can train on whatever they need to suit their purposes."
Cross-country racers usually receive both hardtail and full-suspension bikes while downhillers get whichever models best suit the courses they'll encounter. Given the ever-increasing prices of transporting bikes overseas for World Cup and World Championship events, Giant have established infrastructure on multiple continents to support the team.
Cross-country and marathon racer Oli Beckingsale works on his bike
"Ideally the guys have race bikes at their house and then one on each major continent where stuff is happening," said Staub. "So we have race bikes and infrastructure in the US and in Europe. It's important to not have to cart back and forth a lot of expensive gear." For less frequently visited countries, the team have no choice but to transport their gear there and back.
Staub will travel with the rig to most major races. "I'll be at four [US] Pro XCT races and three or four Pro GRT races," he said. "It's different from some teams because we have downhill and cross-country riders so sometimes we have to be in two places at once domestically.
"We do our best to get our riders at all the appropriate events with the best support we can, but sometimes you just have to compromise with a schedule that accommodates the budget and rider needs, and also gets us the exposure we need."
Team mechanic Justin Morse cleans one of his riders' bikes
The rest of the gear
Staub and team manager Frank Trotter have to handle the acquisition of lots of other gear, not just bikes. "We ordered 45 chains this year and last year we ordered the same amount and had to order another 20 more," said Staub. "It's not because they break but we make sure the equipment is 100 percent all the time.
"On the downhill side, we probably go through 40 tyres per rider per season for just World Cup racing. On the cross-country side, it's usually less than that. If you factor in all the local races, the training and non-World Cup events, it's quite a few tyres – maybe 100 per rider in some cases.
"A guy like Adam goes through a lot of tyres – all-mountain, cross-country and downhill tyres. A guy like
The team go through hundreds of tyres in a season
Behind every good racer is a good support crew
Giant back their riders with talented support staff. "I don't know another programme that has our support," said Staub. "For example, our soigneur Felice Beitzel is a doctor with a PhD in exercise physiology.
"We have a coach who is a veteran World Cup racer with tonnes of experience – Oscar Saiz. He raced for Giant for several years and he's one of the most intelligent people here, with a mind toward racing. He's good at taking preparation off the track and helping riders get solid results. He's in a new coaching capacity for 2010."
Downhill team mechanic Morse backs up his wrenching duties with plenty of experience. "He's a mechanical engineer and a smart guy," said Staub. "We're setting ourselves up for a super season. I'm psyched."
Look for Giant's factory downhill and cross-country racers, along with the team rig, at international and domestic US events throughout 2010.
The Giant team camp was buried in snow, despite being in Tehachapi, California